Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-35-58
Date: Sunday May 7, 2023
Nearly every culture throughout history has attempted to answer the question, ‘What happens after you die?’ Interestingly, the approaches that various cultures have taken differ in the extreme. The Greeks of old believed that heaven was a place where the pantheon of gods engaged in scandalous behavior, often callously or maliciously inserting themselves into the events of world history. Atheists believe that life is nothing more than an illusion created by the random collection of molecules floating through time and space. We have no soul. And once this illusion passes, that’s it. Buddhists and Hindus believe that we will be reincarnated in this world in higher or lesser forms based on our performance. And that ultimately when we reach the highest ascent, the self ceases to exist. Like a drop of water falling into the ocean, we will merge with the univeral consciousness. Muslims believe that heaven is a place where men will be surrounded by countless virgins. Promiscuity is an eternal reward.
What do you believe will happen to you after you die? Will you wake up on the other side? Will it be life like we know it now? Or will it be substantially different? Will we have community and friends? Will we have a physical body? Where it will it be? I believe that every Christian is duty bound to know the answers to these questions. Our vision of what is to come must shape our life here and now. The Bible provides rich insight into the wonder of heaven.
We are looking today at the second half of 1 Corinthians 15, that great chapter in the Bible that discusses the resurrection. Last week looked more broadly at the importance of having an eternal perspective, of rooting ourselves in the reality of Christ’s resurrection and the certainty of our own. Today, we get to more details. Today we explore life after death and ask the question ‘What will heaven be like?’
Principle 1: We Will Undergo a Physical Bodily Transformation in Preparation for Life in Heaven
The first principle is that ‘We will undergo a physical bodily transofrmation in preparation for life in heaven.’ We read in verses 35-41.
1 Corinthians 15:35-41 “35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
Notice that Paul begins verse 35 by answering an objector. He imagines a person who is arguing against the resurrection of the dead. And that person’s argument would be centered on the physicalness of our bodies. Perhaps this is someone who is holding to the Philosophy of Athens that we discussed last week. Athenian philosophy of that day was hyper dualistic. Everything physical was dirty and unworthy of eternity. The spiritual, the mind, was the only thing that could inhabit eternity. And so perhaps this hypothetical person is questioning the legitimacy of a physical body dwelling in heaven. Or perhaps his argument is somethign else entirely. Maybe this person is just wondering if heaven is perfect and there is no more pain, how can we have a physical body. What if I fall off a cliff in heaven in my physical body? That doesn’t make any sense?
1 Seed & Flower: Paul responds with three separate illustrations that each talk about differing degrees of glory from one body to another. First, he speaks of a seed being planted in the ground (36-38). The seed is just the beginning form of the glory that is to be that plant or that flower. All the elements are in the seed. The DNA that comprises the ultimate flower is in the seed. And yet, the degree of glory, is staggeringly different.
2 Differing Bodies Among the Animals: Second he uses the example of animals to describe different bodies that have been assigned. There is a body for a bird, there is a body for a fish. And God has assigned humanity a body. It should come as no surprise, according to Paul, that we do not all have the same body. God has made our bodies fit for the purposes that we serve. And the argument of course that he is making is that whatever our physical body is in heaven, it will the purposes that we will serve then.
3 Differing Heavenly Bodies: Third, he uses the image of cosmic bodies: the sun, the moon, and the stars. And his point is the exact same. God has orchestrated and designed different cosmic bodies for different purposes. If the moon were exactly the same as the sun, we would all burn up. And if the sun were exactly the same as our next closest star, we would all freeze to death. But God in his infinite wisdom has assigned different degrees of glory to different cosmic bodies in order to sustain his purposes.
These three illustrations are offered as a way of describing a transformation that will take place to our earthly bodies at the resurrection. There is going to be some kind of transformation—that Paul develops further—in which the sense of who we are is not lost, and yet newness and change comes over us for life in heaven. This is precisely what Paul says next:
1 Corinthians 15:42-43 “42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.”
Look at the different contrasts he uses to describe the type of body we will receive in heaven.
1 Perishable/Imperishable: This body that we have on Earth is perishable. It can grow weary. It can grow old. It can cut and bruise and ultimately die. But the body we will have in heaven is imperishable. It cannot bruise. It cannot weaken. It cannot grow old. It cannot die.
2 Dishonor/Glory: The body we have not is full of dishonor. Well I suspect the dishonor is only fully understood by considering the weight of glory that our new bodies will have. This body that we had on Earth will have seemed so weak and vulnerable and shameful, compared to the physical body we will have in heaven.
3 Weakness/Power: This body we have on Earth is weak. The muscles can only do so much. The brain is only capable of so much. We are limited in what we can physically do. But who knows the degree of power which our bodies will experience as they are transformed for life in heaven. I suspect that in heaven, were we to look back at images of the strongest and healthiest among us here in this world, we would laugh at their insignificance.
One of my favorite novels is a book CS Lewis called That Hideous Strength. The main character, Ransom, has spent time in his life on another planet closer to God, closer to glory, and closer to the angels. As a result his physical body has begun to change, to adapt, to become something new. It’s not quite fully glorified, but its disturbingly different. In this book there is a scene young Jane comes across the man Ransom. Listen to the scene.
“Jane looked; and instantly her world was unmade. On a sofa before her, with one foot bandaged as if he had a wound, lay what appeared to be a boy, twenty years old… All the light in the room seemed to run towards the gold hair and the gold beard of the wounded man. Of course he was not a boy – how could she have thought so? The fresh skin on his forehead and cheeks and, above all, on his hands, had suggested the idea. But no boy could have so full a bear. And no boy could be so strong… It was manifest that the grip of those hands would be inescapable, and imagination suggested that those arms and shoulders could support the whole house… How could she have thought him young? Or old either? It came over her, with a sensation of quick fear, that this face was of no age at all… For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King in itself with all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power. At that moment, as her eyes first rested on his face, Jane forgot who she was.That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis
I believe CS Lewis has masterfully painted us an image of the type of experience it will be have our bodies transformed, changed for life in heaven.
Paul develops this even further in a rather remarkable way with another comparison, that of a Natural Body to a Spiritual Body.
1 Corinthians 15:44-49 “44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
The point Paul is making is that the bodies we now have are inherited by Adam, the first man. Adam and Eve who sinned and the garden and invited all brokenness into our existence. Adam’s blood flows through our veins. The bodies we now have are just like the bodies that Adam had. But in heaven, we will have a body that will match Christ’s new glorified body. In that sense, our new body will be “spiritual.” We will “bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Let’s get specific for a moment about what happens when we die. When a person dies right now, they go to a place that we can rightly call Heaven, or perhaps Paradise as Jesus referred to it as he was dying. If you recall he looked to the man on the cross dying beside him and said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise is wonderful, and it is in the presence of Christ. What kind of bodies we have in Paradise, I do no know. What and where it is exactly, I do not know that either. Those are mysteries that are bound from human minds.
What I do know is there is coming a day when that temporary Paradise and this temporary Earth come to a climactic end. In that moment, God will merge Heaven and Earth. He will bring all of the beauty and the ethic and glory of Heaven, and he will physically merge it with all of the physical and Earthiness of this world. Listen to how he describes that moment in the next few verses.
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As we shared last week, this passage repeats again. In the twinkling of an eye. In a moment when it is least expected. When society is going on about their business. While Christians are living in the hope of what is to come. One day, Christ will burst onto the scene once again. A trumpet will sound declaring his presence. The dead will be raised and given new glorified bodies. Bodies that can never be harmed. Bodies that can never break. Bodies that can never die. That is why Paul taunts death in this passage. “O death where is your sting.” The great enemy against all humanity will be finally and utterly defeated and thrown away never to be seen again.
This is why Christians throughout history have been buried, and not cremated. The practice of cremation is an Eastern practice that comes from religions like Buddhism and Taoism. In cremation you are symbolically destroying the body, which is exactly what the Buddhist and the Taoist believe. The self ceases to exist. What you were is ultimately destroyed as you merge into the great sea of the divine energy. Burial anticipates resurrection though. The body is laid in the ground alongside other believers in hopeful anticipation of what that day when Christ returns. I saw one Pastor I follow recently post about how he desires for his small church in the country to one day build a chapel with a graveyard, so they can all rise together as a Church family at the resurrection. This is the Christian hope.
The consequences of sin is death. But Jesus Christ has won the victory on the cross. He has certified our inheritance through his resurrection from the dead. The power that sin had over us, to distort us, to lead us to death, has been broken by Jesus Christ. And if you want the full life that God offers, the life filled with the taste of heaven, the life that prepares you for life in heaven, you must receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You must accept his free gift of grace offered to you on the cross. And when you do that, Christ becomes your victor over sin and death. Your eternity is secure!
Principle 2: ‘The Earth Will Undergo a Physical Transformation’
The question still remains, what will heaven be like? Let us turn from our specific passage, and look to another passage that describes heaven.
Revelation 21:1-3 “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
What we see from this passage is that after Christ returns, he will merge heaven with Earth. In other words, this Earth will be renewed and restored and glorifed. Just as our physical bodies will be renewed and glorified in preparation for life in heaven. So will this Earth undergo a radical transformation, a glorifying, as heaven merges with Earth. Anthony Hoekema writes,
“In his redemptive activity, God does not destroy the works of his hands, but cleanes them from sin and perfects them, so that they may finally reach the goal for which he created them… This principle means that the new earth to which we look forward will not be totally diffeerent from the present one, but will be a renewal and glorificatin of the Earth on which we now live.”Anthony Hoekema
Friends, we are living in the physical place where heaven will be. It is here on this Earth! The new earth will still be earth. It will be recognizable as Earth. It will certainly be altered, glorified, renewed through fire. But it will be Earth. The Old Testament spoke of this Earthly transformation often:
Ezekiel 36:35 “35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’”
Isaiah 55:13 “13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.””
All of these passages describe a changing of the Earth, a restoring of Edenic qualities.
Lake Michigan: I suspect that we will still recognize Lake Michigan as Lake Michigan. But I suppose the water will be so clear and so clean that it were you to swim to the middle of the lake, you could see straight to the sand on the bottom as if peering through glass.
Mount Everest: I suspect we will still recognize Mount Everest. But I suppose that our bodies will be so changed that we will bound up the hills and over every crag.
Stars: I suspect that a those who study the stars will find that the same constellations still exist in the night sky. But I suppose that the strength of our eyes will be such that we will naturally see billions upon billions of more stars scattered across the night sky.
Sunsets: I suspect that the sun will still rise and fall as it has throughout all of history. But I suppose that the glory of the colors that our eyes will behold on that first evening as the sun sets on the New Earth, will be enough to cause every person present to break down and weep overwhelming tears of gratefulness at the sheer wonder and beauty of it all.
One common question I have come across is if Heaven will be boring. No I tell you. That term will only ever be associated with Hell. Hell is the great monotany of utter darkness. But Heaven. In heaven we will live, and eat, and play, and have community. I suspect we will travel and converse. I suspect we will create and develop culture and civilization all underneath the perfect glory of God. Bruce Milne writes,
“The one who is Lord of the whole of life was never going to bring us at the end into an eternal existence of mental constriction, or of emotional and creative impoverishment. Creativity will surely be valued, for such an anticipation must be in keeping with the nature of him who set the morning stars a-singing…”Bruce Milne
We will create. With our mind and our body unlocked, I suspect the music and the art we will create will put Beethoven and Van Gogh to shame. We will laugh with one another in fellowship. And we will worship. At the heart of heaven will be humanity in its fullness, as it was made, worshipping God.
And at the center of it it all will be Christ. “He will dwell with them.” Heaven is heaven because Christ is there. The glories of the new earth and the splendor of our new bodies are only secondary aspects of heaven. The true joy of heaven is Christ, the King. The true joy of Heaven is our proximity to Christ. I heard it asked some time ago this way. Imagine you died, and you were surrounded by everything you ever wanted. All the people you loved were there. You had a new body that seemed stronger and better and more capable. There was freedom to do everything you ever dreamed of doing. But Christ was not there. Would you be satisfied? If the answer to that question is, “probably—yes,” then there is a significant weakness in your understanding of who Christ is, and what the great joys of life is. At the center of heaven is Christ the King. All the delights of this earth are nothing, if we are separated from Christ. That is what makes this life so filled with tension. Here we live by faith and not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 “6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
But in heaven, faith has come to its end. In heaven we live by sight! We live in proximity to Christ in his physical body.
“With that unending and ever-increasing display will come an unending and ever-increasing discovery on our part of more of the depths and greatness of God’s grace. We will learn and grasp and comprehend more of the height and depth and width and breadth of his saving love. We will see ever new and always fresh displays and manifestations of his kindness. The knowledge we gain when we enter heaven will forever grow and deepen and expand and intensify and multiply. We will constantly be more amazed with God, more in love with God, and thus ever more relishing his presence and our relationship with him… Wherever you turn your eyes you will see nothing but glory and grandeur and beauty and brightness and purity and perfection and splendor and satisfaction and sweetness and salvation and majesty and marvel and holiness and happiness.”John Piper
Oh! Long for this Christian. Set your gaze fully on the hope that is to come. Permit yourself to
Move 3: How Then Shall We Live?
If all of this is true faithful Christian, how then ought we live now? If everything I just said is guaranteed, and is our future, what ought to be the life of a Christian today? Paul offers us four bits of counsel.
1 Corinthians 15:58 “58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Be steadfast, immovable: Christian—do not waver. This whole chapter is a defense against naysayers to the resurrection. Take your ground and stand there confidently. Settle in and determine in your soul that you will not bow to false idols, to false ideologies. Plant your feet firmly on Christ, and ask him to secure you with unbreakable chains to his promises.
Abound in the work of the Lord: Secondly—about in the Lord’s work. If everything we have said is your certain future, then fill your days now with the Lord’s work. Be busy with Kingdom activity. Pray mightily. Love sacrificially. Raise children to know and love the Lord. Invest in your Church family with you time and energy to see Christ’s work done in this city. Abound in the Lord’s work.
Knowing: Lastly, as you do all of this, know that your labor is not in vain. God sees all. He has prepared all. He knows what you are goign through now, and he wrote this script for you. Not one moment is in vain. Live fully for the Lord right now.
For the day is fast approaching when the King of Kings will return. May he find us waiting steadfastly, immovably, abounding in the knowledge of the Lord.